The first aspect of anatomy to know is how to describe relationships. “Up” and “down” don’t have fixed meanings when someone can lay down and change your reference points. Instead, we make use of a “standardized anatomical position” and standard definitions related to that position, that allow folks the world over to know which way is up.
Out in the real, people only rarely look like the textbook. All muscles look the same, nerves look just like the fat and gristle that surrounds them, blood vessels vary in their location from person to person and can be as unique as fingerprints; the most accurate way to find what you are looking for is to trace its relationships to other things.
The drawing above depicts a human in “standard anatomical position”, which is standing up, feet forward, hands twisted so that palms are foreword and thumbs out.
“Up” is superior, “down” is inferior. Closer to the midline is “medial”, away from midline is “lateral”. Note that this means the thumb is more lateral, even if we typical hold it in such a fashion as to make it appear more medial. “Anterior” is towards the stomach side, “posterior” is towards the back side. “Proximal” refers to the location along one of the extremities closer to the core of the body, “distal” is further away from the core.
If you open the Kaplan Coloring book to page 1, you will see similar figures. On the side are the definitions of the standard anatomical directions.
Assignment #1: Please take out your writing instrument of choice and fill those in. Color the figures, if that will help you remember. Then make a list of 10 or so random points on the body, and describe their relationship in the standard terms. For example, “ear” and “eye” would be: my ear is lateral and posterior, and slightly inferior, to my eye, my eye is medial, anterior, and slightly superior, to my ear.
Now skip to pages 7, and 15-19.
These pages describe general areas of the body. Page 7, bottom plate, details a quadrant approach to description of the areas of the abdomen; these are used frequently in the physical exam section as shorthand. Instead of constantly writing “the pain was such-and-such centimeters superior and this-and-that centimeters lateral to the umbilicus” you simply write “right upper quadrant.” There are specific things that live in each of these quadrants, and the location helps point you to what might be wrong.
Of note, if you are referring to something right in the middle, that is “periumbilical.”
Pages 15 & 16 are the medical terms used to describe certain areas of the body. These almost all derive from Latin, and are used to describe almost anything that lives in that area. The location of the brachial artery, or femoral artery, becomes immediately apparent. “Nuchal rigidity” is a classic sign of meningitis, a highly lethal infection of the covering of the brain, and now you know where that is. One nit to pick: the “lumbar” region covers the entirety of the low back, not just the “love handles” as these pages indicate.
It is also a rich source of bad medical puns and jokes such as “crania-rectal inversion syndrome.”
Page 19 shows the various body cavities. These are simply to be memorized. There is one area that should be included here, called the “retroperitoneal space”.
Assignment #2: Google “retroperitoneal space” and post your discovery in the comments. Using your writing instrument of choice, color in the areas on pages 7 & 15-19. Then, on yourself, or a willing partner, outline or otherwise indicate where all these areas are.
Then: teach all of the above to someone else.
Disclaimer: We here at Hogwarts are not responsible for the consequences of outlining all of these anatomical areas on a partner. We recommend against permanent marker. I do recall with some fondness this particular lesson from medical school, as I was newlywed at the time. 😉